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30-year-old play about Israeli-Palestinian conflict resurfaces – minus Palestinians

16 4 11

JTA — When Seattle-based playwright and theater director Lauren Goldman Marshall first staged her original musical about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 1991, she had recently embarked on a journey of self-discovery prompted by the First Intifada. Working alongside Palestinian collaborators, she produced a heartfelt show meant to celebrate “seeing the other.”

Thirty years later, that show, “Abraham’s Land,” has been revived for a new generation. A new adaptation was staged in Seattle this summer, and a filmed version is streaming for free online through December 12.

But much has changed in the intervening decades, from the trajectory of peace efforts to sentiments among American Jews to ideas in the theater world about what constitutes meaningful representation on stage.

And now, several Palestinians who were involved in the first staging, including the play’s original co-author, have backed out of the project. They say the Jewish producers ignored their concerns about representation and a narrative they perceived as racist.

“This play has harmed Palestinians both on a political level and on an interpersonal level over its 30-year existence,” reads an open letter penned by Palestinians who had been involved in readings of the show. “This production and those behind it cannot continue to exploit our communities.”

At least one Jewish group is rethinking its support of the production in light of the public outcry: Kadima Reconstructionist Community, a Seattle-area congregation, withdrew its endorsement of “Abraham’s Land” following the open letter.

Other former collaborators say there’s nothing left the show can teach anyone.

“The play is outdated,” Palestinian-American playwright Hanna Eady, who co-authored the original show with Goldman Marshall, said about “Abraham’s Land” today. “It has nothing to do with what’s going on here, or what has been going on since the first Intifada — nothing.”

“Abraham’s Land” was originally inspired by Goldman Marshall’s reaction to the first Intifada in the late 1980s, during which she reconsidered her own relationship to Israel as an American Jew. She visited Israel, stayed in a Palestinian refugee camp and held a conversation with Israeli soldiers who were struggling with their role in maintaining Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“I thought that there was an oppressor and an oppressed, and the Palestinians were living under a very harsh and brutal occupation,” Goldman Marshall told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

She wanted to help other Jews understand the effects of the ongoing conflict on the Palestinian people.

“I felt that maybe now Jewish Americans could hear this,” she said. “We needed to open up the dialogue. If we don’t speak out, who will?”

In the show, an Israeli soldier named Yitzhak kills a man named Ismail, a Palestinian with a bright future and a passion for coexistence, during a peaceful protest. Haunted by Ismail’s ghost, Yitzhak goes on a journey of self-discovery in an attempt to cope with the effects of his actions. Dressing as a Palestinian, he sneaks into Gaza and meets Ismail’s family in an attempt to seek their forgiveness.

Goldman Marshall worked alongside Eady and began to workshop the play with Jewish and........

© The Times of Israel

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